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Translating Modern Slavery into Management Practice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 May 2020


This article examines how ill-defined legal norms around modern slavery are being outlined in supply chain legislation and then interpreted by management professionals. Building on an infrastructural analysis of supply chain governance, I uncover the set of practices that underlie recent regulations around modern slavery. I track the implementation of these laws by following the “chain of translation,” whereby information is transformed from on-the-ground raw data, to quantitative metrics of modern slavery risks, and, finally, to polished corporate statements. This analysis focuses on the critical role being played by the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex), which is a platform for sharing responsible sourcing data. While Sedex is not an auditor and is not governed by lawyers, it is nonetheless serving an important function in interpreting legal norms around modern slavery and facilitating the implementation of supply chain laws. Yet there are potential costs to its expansive role. Sedex is translating modern slavery into a management problem largely based on quantitative metrics such as indicators and risk scorecards. While Sedex provides limited opportunities for public participation, it needs to be more transparent with respect to the methodology behind its metrics and provide further opportunities for comment by parties underrepresented in its governance.

© 2020 American Bar Foundation

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The author would like to thank Einat Albin, Netta Barak-Corren, Matt Canfield, Melissa Durkee, Toby Goldbach, Moshe Hirsch, Sally Merry, Adam Saunders, Yuval Shany, Gavin Sullivan, Peer Zumbansen, and Law & Social Inquiry’s anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on previous drafts. The author is also grateful to Raphael Deberdt and Isaac Mills for their useful research assistance. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Infrastructures as Regulation Conference at New York University School of Law and the Faculty Seminar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Law.


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